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More Garbage Talk
25/09/2004

My garbage post of a few days ago generated some interesting comments from Mister Anchovy and Robert McClelland. I thought I'd give my answers here.

When I attended the public meeting on the green bin program, I was surprised by what you can put in it. It's not just the same stuff you can throw in your composter. You can put in many more things, like meat products or animal waste. Even many paper products that you don't put in your blue box (like ice cream containers or kleenex) can go in.

What this made me think of was when environmental stores started selling biodegradable versions of everyday products, like pens. I thought it was a nice but fairly useless idea, since these things would most likely wind up at the bottom of a landfill anyway. Now, I suppose, that if biodegradable products, like diapers, were on the market, you'd just be able to throw them into your green bin and produce no garbage at all. (Actually, you can put diapers in the green bin now, but only the "contents" get composted in the end.)

After Toronto started shipping its garbage to Michigan, City Hall came up with a goal of increasing the diversion rate (i.e., what doesn't go to landfill) to 30% in 2003, 60% in 2006 and 100% in 2010.

For 2003, the City actually acheived 32%. In some areas, this would be much higher -- neighbourhoods where the Green Bin program had already been rolled out, for example -- and in other areas, much lower. So there's reason to believe that we'll be able to do quite a bit better. However, in a recent report, the following reality check was delivered (link PDF):

Although we now have some momentum toward our 2006 goal, the initiatives currently underway are not, by themselves, enough to allow us to reach the 60 percent target. Toronto is looking ahead at some difficult decisions if it is to reach its next milestone; for example:

  • Rolling out the Green Bin Program to multi-family dwellings
  • Considering a reduction of bag limits
  • Setting up re-use centres for convenient drop-off and pick-up of resusable items

Similarly, it is unrealistic to believe we can recycle, reuse and compost our way to 100 percent diversion from Michigan landfill by 2010. The City will need to continue to explore new and emerging technologies that will allow us to manage the estimated 40 percent residual waste that will remain after recycling and green bin participation is maximized.

Getting closer to 100% is going to take some outside help. We all wind up throwing out a lot of things that can't be recycled or composted. I don't know how this can be completely eliminated, but certainly some of these items could be redesigned -- if only there was the motivation to do so. That's where the province could theoretically step in and regulate. One example might be to mandate or encourage the use of more readily recyclable materials in common packages, or to reduce packaging in the first place.

In any case, reaching the final milestone is on the far horizon. The much bigger challenge at the moment is in getting apartment buildings and condos close to the diversion level of houses. In Toronto these residences represent 50% of the housing stock, and most have sub-par recycling services (and no composting).

The Armchair Garbageman has been a good source for these subjects. Maybe he can tell us how the targets will be met!


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